Impact of paternity leave changes on local businesses

FLEXIBILITY is what small Borders firms are looking for when it comes to dealing with paternity and maternity leave.

This week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced plans to extend paternity leave and Borders MP Michael Moore described them as a ‘real boost’ for families in the Borders.

However, the Borders Branch of the Federation of Small Businesses wants greater flexibility, with more clarity on when staff will be returning to work

Chairman Philip Titley said: “Family leave should be tailored to suit each individual – a one size fits all approach fails to adapt to those needs.

“The majority of businesses in the Borders are small businesses employing less than five people; in a recent survey of members the Federation of Small Businesses found that half of small businesses rated maternity leave very complex to administer.

“While small firms are the most flexible employers, they find it difficult to plan and forecast when someone on maternity or paternity leave will return to work. The federation has been calling on the Government to reform maternity and paternity leave by introducing a ‘flexible leave’ system to allow parents to choose their leave arrangements.

“Parents should be able to choose how they receive their statutory pay – but in return information must be given to the employer upfront and be taken in one block. In doing so small firms will have more clarity on when that invaluable and skilled member of staff will return to work.”

Men currently get two weeks paternity leave and women up to a year’s leave. In the first step towards a more flexible system, from April fathers will be able to take up remaining unpaid maternity leave if mothers go back to work early, for a maximum of six months.

The ultimate aim for Liberal Democrats is for parents to to share their leave in whatever way suits them best.The plans would not affect women’s guaranteed right to paid time off in the first months after birth and the rights of lone mothers would be protected.

In the coming weeks, a consultation will be launched by the Government on a new, properly flexible system of shared parental leave to be introduced in 2015.

Mr Moore said of the new plans: “This is a long-overdue and welcome measure which gives parents the flexibility they need and enables fathers to play a key role in looking after their children.

“The current system is extremely outdated and in desperate need of this kind of reform which enables parents to make the best choice for their families.

“I’m sure many families in the Borders will benefit from this change which has proven in other countries to enhance family life and increase the involvement of fathers in their children’s upbringing.

“The Government is aware of the concerns of businesses with regard to the changes to parental leave in April and we are committed to working with businesses to make sure the new system is sustainable and affordable.

“We want the changes to actually benefit British companies, enabling them to keep the staff they have invested in.

“We are launching a consultation which aims to take flexibility for parental leave even further while taking into account the current, challenging economic circumstances for families, businesses and the Government. One of the principles which is central to the consultation is that the new system must fully consider the needs of employers and be simple to administrate.”